WASHINGTON – President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from Syria would have been taken after a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Friday revealed US officials, quoted by Associated Press.
The telephone conversation between the two presidents that took place on December 14 was behind this decision, including the resignation of Pentagon chief James Mattis, announced Thursday as a sign of opposition to the White House chief's move, say two Trump administration officials who requested anonymity.
A hasty decision made by President Trump without taking into account the opinion issued by the National Security Council (NSC), chaired by John Bolton, or even previously informing the US allies in Syria, according to the same sources
The appeal in question was arranged by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after failing to obtain from his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu a clarification of the military offensive that Erdogan is threatening to carry out. Kurdish rebels in northeastern Syria, where US forces are stationed.
In anticipation of this phone conversation, Mike Pompeo and James Mattis along with other NSC members have prepared a list of talking points for President Trump to convince Erdogan to give up his threat to intervene against Kurds .
Trump, who first accepted the discussion sheet presented by his team, eventually joined Erdogan. According to the two sources, the December 14 telephone conversation sparked four days of frenzied discussions to dissuade Trump from giving up or at least delaying his decision to give the Kurds time to prepare for the withdrawal of US forces.
But the president was insensitive to his cabinet's appeals, the two sources note.
"The talking points were firm-", said one of the officials, explaining that the US president was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria and to propose in exchange bilateral collaboration to address security concerns.
There was talk of giving Turkey something that looked like a small victory, eventually giving it control over a territory at the borders, the same sources said.
But President Trump was quickly put on the defensive by Erdogan who had reminded him of his repetitive statements about the reason for the US presence in Syria to fight the self-proclaimed terrorist group. Organization of the Islamic State (EI / Daech).
"Why are you still there?" Erdogan asked Trump, adding that Turkish forces could deal with the latest IS militants.
According to the two officials, Trump quickly capitulated, promising to withdraw from Syria. His decision shocked both the NSC chief, John Bolton, who was present during the interview, and the Turkish president himself.
Caught unprepared, Erdogan warned Trump against a precipitous withdrawal of US forces.
Although Turkey made incursions into Syria, it does not have sufficient forces mobilized at the borders to penetrate the vast expanses of northeastern Syria, they explain.
The telephone conversation ended when President Trump told Erdogan that he was going to withdraw his troops but did not give him any details on how to proceed.
In the United States, the White House leader's unexpected decision was sharply criticized by the American political class as a betrayal of the Kurds who fought alongside American forces.
The United States can not "effectively fulfill the role of" indispensable nation in the free world without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect for those allies, "James Mattis wrote Thursday in his resignation letter.
The departure of the Pentagon leader was very badly received by the Congress, which sees in him a force of stability in the Trump administration. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats, said Thursday that James Mattis has shown great patriotism. Her letter that all Americans must read "is a statement of values," she said.